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Wither

By @Saamia_K

Chapter 1

The heels of her black leather boots rattled the hardwood floors as she paced. Ardyn Adronikos was accustomed to the pressure–she was brought up by it. Nobody had been able to surpass her intellect, but that was to be expected from the heir of the Silvic Sect. The councilmens’ sons and nephews had tried, yet to their disappointment, the willpower of the raven-haired girl had them settling for less. She thought they should be grateful for the little power they had. 

Now a part of her wished she hadn’t been at the top of her class, and rather let some loathsome councilman’s son take all the duties she had to perform. Maybe then she would escape the feeling of pressure that caused her heart to beat as fast as her steps. But, she realized, she wouldn’t have the freedom to play her part in the success of the newly-formed Sect. Ardyn was duty-bound to give all of herself to the people she would one day govern, and she yearned to fulfill that. She also just liked the feeling of being better than the sniveling men who glared at her at council meetings, not that she would tell anyone that. The hardwood floor began to squeak, a signal that she should probably stop pacing and head down, since it was almost time to meet her new retinue.

Ardyn closed her eyes and took in a breath of cold air. Despite all her attempts at mastering her wavering nerves, her heart still fluttered before every meeting, though today it felt like more of a pound against her chest. Standing beneath her was Deakos, the Commander of the Silvic Sect army, usually clad in head-to-toe black armor with silver metal studded at the ends, ever as imposing as his stiff face. She had known him for as long as she could remember, and while he was almost like an uncle to her, it was meetings like this that made any form of attachment disappear. Ardyn knew she was on her own this time, but she expected this. With a held breath she forced her head to clear, exhaled, and strode down the marble steps without a wobble in her bones.

Just off the landing, the rising sun shone from the windows she passed as she made her way to one of the many war rooms embedded within the manor. This estate, her home, had initially been built decades ago as a rendezvous point for The Alliance when the sects were rife with political unrest. Ardyn had always wondered why it was suddenly turned into a manor when it had already been established as a resource reservoir at this location. Back then, The Alliance, the rebel confederation headed by Ardyn’s grandfather who fought against the tyrannical ruling class of the other sects, had amassed enough capital to not only establish themselves as a separate sect, but also to create homes and government buildings on the sprawling, tree-covered land just outside the window. The massive growth the Alliance had become had turned its population into a new Sect

Down the hall King Adronikos, Ardyn’s father, waited in front of the double doors to a war room. She immediately straightened her posture, and nodded to his hard eyes before heading in.

The candles and lights attached to the walls were lit, giving Ardyn a sense of false warmth to a room full of men with frozen stares and dark blue armor. Only one of them, Commander Deakon, turned his head toward her with a glimmer of softness before stopping all arguments at the round table. 

“I hope you all are not arguing about me. I’d hate to be the source of any strife brewing among you,” she said as she approached the piles of paper with a smirk.

Deakon’s dark eyes glinted but kept his face stern. “Not at all Lady Ardyn. We were simply discussing the extent of your new role and who among these soldiers would be apt for the responsibilities you must now share. As you know, this is your first major strike, and King Andronikos has insisted,” he said with a pointed glare at my father next to me, “that you take the lead in heading the advancement against the growing unrest at the border between us and the Pangol Sect. This also means that you can choose one of my soldiers to assist you. All have been hand-picked by me, so you do not have to worry about anything lacking. They are also prepared to give you their case.” He gave a single look to the group, and they all stepped forward, lined up and backed straight. 

What he didn’t need to say was that they were all still foolish men who are new to the game, which irritated Ardyn, since she had thought her father believed that she was capable of something like this on her own. For years she had seen ledgers and lists of their people who had died from the hands of Pangolese deserters, and the loss of mineral-rich land had left the Silvic Sect scrambling for grain and crops. Even though it was expected of Ardyn to contribute to the fight against the dissension at the border, she was happy to do it for the sake of her people, which thrilled her parents of course.

She kept her face straight while Deakon layed out numerous files, each listing the qualities and attributes of a soldier.

“Use these to aid in your decision while we discuss schedules and the enemy’s statistics-”

Ardyn lifted her hand toward them. “There’s no need. I have already read through the files, but I will let you all make your case.” Deakon lifted a questioning brow.“Nothing is kept hidden from me, especially information,” Ardyn smirked. Deakon’s stark face fought a smile as he glanced at her father. She nodded for them to begin, and as they were listing off their qualifications that she knew was just regurgitated from their files, she noticed that the second to last soldier in the line kept his gaze downward, as if he couldn’t look at her. She had always found men looking at her, maybe because of her appearance, or her confidence, though most times it was because she is the heir, leaving her options shriveled down practically to dust. 

Her curiosity was piqued. Ardyn held out a hand for a soldier to stop talking.

“What about you,” she pointed at the second to last soldier. The other men in the room shifted their feet as they looked to who she was talking to. The soldier finally looked up at her with hardened night brown eyes. “Do you have a reason that makes you qualified to work with me?” 

His jaw tensed and pointed his head toward the files strewn on the table. “I believe you know enough about me to make that decision yourself,” he said tersely. 

Ardyn pursed her lips, slightly irked at his tone. But he was right. After reading his file the night before, she knew that the soldier, Kol Navruz, was nearly perfect for the job. He had only joined the Silvic Sect’s military force nearly half a year ago, yet had risen in the ranks faster than any of his peers. Based on his file, the chestnut-haired man in front of her was primed for the title of Sergeant, and it could have been given to him in the next month or two. That was until he had been picked by Commander Deakos to lead a charge with Ardyn. Perhaps that was why he seemed upset. Ardyn had already chosen him once she had finished reading, but now the desire to have a talented soldier do the dirty work of heading a charge against the Pangol Sect was starting to cast doubt. 

“Yes Mr. Navruz, you are absolutely right,” Ardyn smiled. “I don’t see a point in dragging this any longer. Commander Deakos, I have chosen Kol Navruz to assist me with the strike operation plan.” 

From the corner of her eye, both the Commander and her father gave a gleam of approval, and she knew the plan was set in motion. 

Ardyn twisted toward the door, but turned her head back toward Kol to find him looking down again, lost in thought. Her father and Deakos began talking quietly, but the rest of the soldiers still stared. She wondered if she was right to choose him, given how unfocused he appeared to be, and the attitude that she will have to knock out of him. 

“Navruz.” Kol looked up at Ardyn’s address. “We meet at my office on the second floor at noon.” And with that, she vanished from the room.

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